Digi-Schlock: ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (Scream Factory Blu-Ray)

Assault On Precinct 13 is a big cult favorite in the John Carpenter filmography and it has appropriately enjoyed a nice life on home video: it was a VHS rental store staple and has enjoyed a couple of DVD releases plus a semi-recent blu-ray release from Image.  Thus, some fans were a bit surprised when Scream Factory when they announced their blu-ray release – but the results are another quality addition to their catalog, boasting strong A/V quality and a pretty comprehensive set of extras.

First things first: this disc sports a gorgeous high-definition transfer: the detail level is sharp as a tack, the colors are rich and it does well by the night photography and dim exteriors that dominate the film’s second half.  Audio options for the transfer include a 2.0 mono and 5.1 stereo remix, both lossless, plus a score-only track.  The 5.1 track was listened to for this review and it’s powerful stuff, giving real heft to the gunplay sounds and bringing surround-speaker depth (and a whole lot of subwoofer-shaking bass) to Carpenter’s spartan synth score.

AOP13-bluFans will be happy to hear that this disc boasts plenty of extras that collect special features from past editions while adding a few new ones to the mix.  It all begins with a vintage commentary track from writer/director John Carpenter (it sounds like it dates back to the laserdisc era as it references a change-over to “Side 2” at the midway point).

It’s a solid track that finds the filmmaker assessing his choices while he lays out all manner of trivia and behind-the-scenes memories.  He points out some in-jokes and the film’s frequent Howard Hawks references, reveals how he had a 24-hour day of shooting on this film, discusses the positive response it got in England on its initial release and how the low budget required him to do his own foley work with two other crew members.  Fans of the director will enjoy this relaxed but informative track.

This disc also boasts a new commentary track with production designer Tommy Lee Wallace, moderated by Michael Felsher.  Wallace did a number of other jobs on the film, including scouting locations, cutting sound effects and even a bit of editing on the action sequences, so he’s in a unique position to provide a lot of good nuts and bolts information.  He reveals all the film’s locations and gives plentiful detail on the tricks of the trade involved in creating the film’s central precinct set.

As a childhood friend and longtime collaborator to Carpenter, Wallace is also able to speak with authority about the director’s inspirations and creative choices – and this leads to an interesting discussion of a certain notorious shooting scene that occurs early in the film.  Felsher asks the right questions and steers Wallace into interesting territory later in the commentary, including some swell anecdotes about The Fog and El Diablo.  All in all, it’s a nice supplement to Carpenter’s commentary track.

Carried over from the Image editions of this title is a 2002 Q&A session with Carpenter and actor Austin Stoker that was conducted at the American Cinematheque.  Both men are in good humor as they are received enthusiastically by a crowd of fanboys.  Carpenter covers some material from the commentary but also tells a fun story about how the threat of an X rating from the MPAA was dealt with.  Stoker mostly sits on the sidelines but does get to answer one good question about casting.  Carpenter is very good in these Q&A scenarios so this segment is pretty fun to watch.

Those who might have wanted to hear more from Stoker in the aforementioned Q&A will be happy to hear that he gets a new solo interview on this disc entitled “Bishop Under Siege.”  The actor reflects on how his stage career led to his role in this film, how his experience with guns while serving in the Army prepared him for the shootouts and offers thoughts on his various cast members.  His general sense of good cheer makes for pleasant viewing.

There is also a new interview with actor Nancy Loomis Kyes called “The Sassy Girl.”  She talks about how her acting work in student films led her into Carpenter and Wallace’s orbit and offers an appreciation for Carpenter’s westerns-influenced style on this film.  She also offers memories of Halloween, The Fog and Halloween III as well as revealing why she left acting.  Her comments have an introspective tone, making her an interesting contrast to Stoker.

The disc is rounded out by a series of promotional materials.  A two-minute theatrical trailer gives the movie a good drive-in style “hard sell” that accentuates the film’s action and the Death Wish-esque vibe of urban malaise.  There are also two 30-second radio spots that draw from the narration of this trailer, underscored with the film’s electronic music.  Finally, there is an animated image gallery that consists mostly of black-and-white stills and promo photos.  Fans of the film should note that the Image DVD and blu-ray editions of this film have a more involved image gallery that also contains script pages and storyboards: it’s not included here so owners of those earlier editions may want to hang onto them to retain that extra.

In short, this is another strong edition to Scream Factory’s John Carpenter repertoire and its combo of a strong transfer and informative extras make it well worth the price for the director’s fans.


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